“I would like to live to a ripe old age and raise watermelons in Wyoming.”
This is how Lou Reed — the influential singer-songwriter from Freeport whose group, the Velvet Underground, pioneered another realm of rock music — pictured his last days on earth when interviewed by critic Lester Bangs in 1973.
Forty years later, Reed’s fans remember the rock icon and his notoriously explosive legacy after his actual death at age 71, caused by liver disease following a transplant last May, at his home in Amagansett, N.Y on Oct. 27.
“Lou was a prince and a fighter,” wrote Laurie Anderson, Reed’s wife of five years, in a letter to the East Hampton Star last week. “I know his songs of the pain and beauty in the world will fill many people with the incredible joy he felt for life.”
At the start of his 50-year career, Reed introduced audiences to primitive rhythms cast around blunt, caustic lyrics that dealt with taboos of his time, from sexual deviance to drug addiction. The earnest drone in Reed’s vocals and distorted guitar strumming amplified such perverse subjects along with the group’s listless image.
“Maybe listening to my music is not the best idea if you live a very constricted life. Or maybe it is,” Reed told SPIN Magazine in 2008. “I’m writing about real things. Real people. Real characters. You have to believe what I write about is true or you wouldn’t pay any attention at all.”
While he didn’t quite reach commercial success in his career — his lone hit came in 1973 with the song “Walk on the Wild Side,” a cheeky ode to the social misfits at Andy Warhol’s Factory — Reed incited an onslaught of music groups in the early 1970s, soon evolving into the advent of punk rock. Reed’s descendants include Talking Heads, Patti Smith, the Stooges, R.E.M. and the Strokes.
Long before the Velvets, Reed had already recorded his first album in 1957 as a freshman at Freeport High School. At 14, Reed played guitar for a local doo-wop group called The Jades, nursing a penchant for rhythm and blues heard on his later releases, most notably “Walk on the Wild Side.”
Reed identified as bisexual at a young age, his parents forcing him to undergo electroconvulsive therapy as a teenager to treat his taboo behavior.